The very best thing about the Samsung Galaxy S6 isn’t the new design or the gorgeous high-res screen. (Those are nice, though.) It’s the fact that no matter what you’re doing, no matter where you are on the phone, all you have to do is click twice on the Home button and you’re immediately launched into the camera. There’s no journey to the home screen, no swiping through a control panel menu; you just click-click, and tap to shoot.
The S6 is, as you could probably guess, the sixth in Samsung’s massively popular, industry-shaping Galaxy S lineup. Yes, it keeps some of the hallmark features of doesn’t-quite-get-it Samsung software, and sure, it looks a lot like the iPhone. Samsung apparently decided the best way to compete with the iPhone is to borrow from Apple. So what? Borrowing—from Xerox Parc, from those dozens of hideous MP3 players—is part of what made Apple great in the first place.
Besides, the S6 still feels new. And its design, performance, and most of all its interface suggest that after five years of not quite getting it, Samsung finally understands what a great phone entails. For the first time, Samsung doesn’t demand that you adapt to the way it works, or push you toward apps prefaced with S. It didn’t pretend that “fast” and “good” are the same thing. It just made the best damn phone it knew how. This new Galaxy flagship is beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s really easy to use. It’s the best Android phone you can buy.
It does still offer a few niceties over the iPhone, though, like compatibility with two different wireless charging standards and super-fast charging. Wireless charging is crazy convenient and crazy slow, whereas plugging your phone into the wall and getting a half-charge in only a few minutes feels like the right kind of future. The quick-charge has already saved me a couple of times, too, because the S6 battery is a little hit-and-miss. I’d get a day and a half, fill ‘er up again, and then sputter out at 10 hours. It always lasts the whole day, but I wouldn’t count on anything more before it kicks into the grayscale, super-limited Ultra Power Saving Mode.
Both models run Android 5.0 Lollipop, with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin slathered all over it. TouchWiz isn’t the dirty word it used to be, mostly because it doesn’t feel as present and pervasive as it once did. Most TouchWiz touches are simpler and cleaner than ever, and get this: there are no more bloops when you tap on things! Still, “better” is different than “good,” and TouchWiz remains a plague on Android, which is now so beautiful and simple to use that it needs no help.
Samsung does add a few useful features and apps, like the activity-tracking S Health, but it also adds another browser for no reason, re-skins the settings menus and notification windows in a way that makes everything harder to find, and generally dumbs down the beautifully colorful new aesthetic of Android Lollipop.
The nice thing, though, is that you can undo basically all of it. Every app on the phone, including all of Samsung’s, can be hidden and disabled. You can change themes, which gives your phone new icons, new wallpapers, new everything. With ten minutes of work, you can make your phone look however you want.
The feature list is long, the spec sheet boggles the mind. But I keep coming back to that click-click tap shortcut to the camera. It’s not a complicated feature, or mind-blowing but pointless—looking at you, Wave Over The Phone To Mute Calls. It’s not even unique to Samsung; Motorola’s shake-shake accomplishes the same thing. It’s just simple, thoughtful, and useful. Those are new adjectives for Samsung. It’s always made the most powerful phones, but if it can pair that with a genuine desire to make the best phone—and learn to see the difference—Samsung’s going to be unstoppable. The S6 isn’t perfect, but it’s close. It’s the best Android phone I’ve ever used.
The knock against the Galaxy lineup has always been that Samsung’s marketing team must be better than its engineering team, because they manage to sell incredible numbers of mediocre smartphones. This time, the job’s easy: Samsung just went out and made a flat-out phenomenal phone. That’ll sell itself.